It shouldn’t be this hard.
I get myself psyched. Time to write! “It’s okay,” I tell myself. “It doesn’t have to be great. It’s just a first draft.” I ignore the voice in my head that says, “Then why are you doing it?”
There’s easier money. Coaching college students on how to write essays, for one thing. I’m already good at that. When I write essays, I’m in control. I know how to teach essay-writing techniques. Where to hop. Tips to impress the professor. All the shortcuts. Making it easy for students to understand. But fiction?
Where do I mention setting? When do I foreshadow? How often do I note body language? How soon should I reveal the twist? There’s too much at once.
A few tips for sticking to the writing goal when the writing gets tough.
#1 The Pep Talk
“You used to be terrible at writing essays, too,” I tell myself.
“Shut up, voice of reason. I’m scared. This is no time for logic.” And then I wonder if it’s normal that I talk to myself. I decide it’s fine. But the fact that I answer back might be crazy.
I open my laptop. Finger on the power button and I’m already wondering where in the plot to drop a hint of the twist to come. I can’t breathe.
#2 Take A Break
Maybe I’ll just check out Pinterest until I calm down. Oh, look, an article about different plotting styles. That’s like working on my story, isn’t it? I’m getting more prepared after all.
Pretty soon guilt tells me I’m doing wrong. So I get back to work.
#3 Stay Positive aka Embrace Denial
I open the file. I write for awhile. It’s going great, because I’m not thinking about it. But then I wonder, is this coming too easy? I don’t trust it. It can’t be good enough if it’s this easy.
#4 Kill Your Butterfly
But what about that writing advice about the butterflies? You have to take that perfect, living story—that fluttering, living butterfly—and pin it to the page. Your story will be a dry, dead husk of what it was in your head. Pinned like a corpse to paper. But it’ll be a story.
Roland, my villainous protagonist, kills and collects butterflies. It’s his hobby and my symbol. My symbolic willingness to kill the butterfly. My perfect story. Before I butcher it on the page.
One dull word in front of another. And maybe his hobby is a symbol too of my contempt for the process. The finished product. Because maybe they’re better when they’re alive, stories and butterflies. And I’m the monster who kills them. Not Roland.
#5 Get Fed Up
Then I do it anyway. Because I know I can’t carry it in my head forever. The story wants out. And I’m going to let it.
I write it down. And, no, it isn’t good enough. But it never will be, will it? I’ll never love the story on paper the way I love it in my head. But in my head it drives me crazy. Little images of the setting pop up. And what is Roland wearing? And where does his daughter go to school? What does she eat for lunch? Can I get her away from him? Will the antagonist, Wendy, find a way to save her daughter and herself?
So I write for a little longer. Move scene snippets here and there. Add a few paragraphs. Think through the plot and isolate gaps.
#6 Get Back on Track
I realize I’ve been surfing the internet for awhile. How did that happen? Hey, Marcia Cross is still looking good. Maybe there’s hope for me. She had her first babies at 45. Maybe there’s hope for me there too. Although, she had money for in vitro. Also money for botox and surgery. Maybe there isn’t hope for me. I mean, who really sells their writing anyway? Especially when it isn’t written.
Oh, look, before and after photos on Tumblr. My god I have a long way to go. Just be cool. The time is going to pass anyway. Just keep your eye on the work.
Write the fucking story. Write the fucking story.
Get back to work.
#7 Set a Timer
I set the timer for 30 minutes. That’s all. That’s not a long time. 30 minutes. You can write for 30 minutes, Mandy. 1, 2, 3…write!
It goes fine for awhile. That 30 minutes has to be almost up. I check the time. 20 minutes left?!
I keep writing.